|New prison terms drafted
By Mike Cason
The Alabama Sentencing Commission approved a draft
report Friday to present to the state Legislature as part of the solution
to the state's prison and jail crowding problem.
The commission will recommend a bill that would require
judges to consider voluntary guidelines in handing out sentences.
The guidelines would be intended to make sentencing
more consistent and reflective of an offender's criminal history
and the level of risk he poses to the public.
For the first time, criminal offenses would be classified
as violent or nonviolent. Violent offenders would not be eligible for parole
but would serve minimum sentences that would be extended by 20 percent
for failure to cooperate with prison programs. They also would be under
an automatic one-year period of supervision at the end of their sentence.
The commission will meet again Feb. 24 to consider
other proposals, including amendments to the state law governing community
The commission, created by the Legislature three years
ago, must issue its report to lawmakers during the session that begins
"I think we're going to be ready," said Chief Assistant
Attorney General Rosa Davis, a commission member. "I'm very pleased with
the progress made on how sentencing reform needs to go."
Gov. Bob Riley and Attorney General Bill Pryor both
support sentencing changes as part of the solution to the state's prison
problem. Alabama's prison population is at an all-time high of more than
27,000, and the state is under court orders to receive inmates more quickly
from county jails.
A federal judge has found the state's women's prison
to be so unsafe that it violates the U.S. Constitution.
The Sentencing Commission voted to recommend that
the Legislature amend some state laws on property crimes. It voted to raise
the monetary amounts that determine the seriousness of a crime, amounts
that haven't changed since the mid-1970s.
For example, criminal mischief causing property damage
of $1,000 or more is a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The commission recommended raising that amount to $2,500 or more.
At a previous meeting, the commission had voted to
raise monetary values that determine the seriousness of thefts. For example,
theft of property worth more than $1,000 is a Class B felony, which brings
a prison sentence of two to 20 years. The commission recommended raising
that amount to $2,500.